Anyone who’s anyone is talking about content marketing for startups; it’s taking the business world by storm. And yes, as a startup marketing, you need to stay ahead of the game.
That’s why we’ve put together this article talking you through everything you need to know about startup marketing: what it is, why it’s a brilliant strategy for startup marketing to include a content marketing plan and an in-depth guide on how you can set up your own strategy. Let’s get started.
Startup Marketing – What Is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is a marketing strategy which involves creating and distributing valuable content to drive conversions.
So why do you need it?
To put it simply, people have become pretty immune to traditional advertising and startup marketing. We’re bombarded with thousands of marketing messages every single day, so naturally we block lots of these out:
- UX testing shows that “banner blindness” is a thing. On a website, people are likely to ignore information presented in banners because that’s where ads are often placed.
- How often do you willingly watch an entire YouTube ad?
- Adblockers are popular for a reason.
- And – not to labour the point – but plenty of services have a premium service where a main selling point is you won’t get ads (Spotify, for example.)
So it’s not even always a matter of ignoring ads. People actively dislike them and will go as far as to pay to not see them. They’re just not primed to invest in a product on the basis you’re shoving it in their face. Especially when they’re just trying to watch a compilation of people falling over.
So if marketers can’t rely on traditional ads to sell products, what can they do instead? The answer: Content marketing. The Content Marketing Institute’s definition of this is widely accepted:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
The key words here are ‘valuable’ and ‘relevant’. You’re delivering your customers information they’re interested in, rather than a straight-up sales pitch. Most successful startup marketing campaigns will be focused around content nowadays, and it should ideally be the base for everything else you do. Paid ads on Facebook for instance will be more successful if they link to an interesting piece of content that your target market wants to see or read. Clickbait does well for a reason.
Your content can take many forms, and it will be different depending on where your potential customer is in your sales funnel. Blog posts, ebooks, infographics, videos, podcasts – any of these (and many other content types) can form part of a content marketing strategy. But the best content provides a solution – and guides your customers to the realisation that your business is that solution.
The best thing about content marketing? Any business – small or large – can set up a successful content marketing campaign. With proper planning and execution, it can be fantastic for startups.
Content Startup Marketing against Paid Search ads
Paid ads can get REALLY expensive, very fast. If you’re bootstrapping or between fundraising rounds, this isn’t ideal. Plus, if you’ve got big competitors (with big budgets) you’re going to struggle to get your ad to outrank theirs. John Rampton says it well: “The problem nowadays is that a startup or new business is dropping $5 or more per click to get people to visit their site. That may increase visitors because you’re appearing at the top of the Google search page, but it’s not guaranteeing customers.” Pay-per-click does what it says on the tin. You pay for clicks, not conversions.
On the other hand, research has shown that the ROI for content marketing is way higher than it is for paid ads. Research has shown that per dollar, content marketing generates three times the number of leads that paid ads do. It’s cheaper and more effective, so basically winning against paid ads in every way. Who can argue with that?
As well as driving conversions, a rich body of content will do wonders for your company’s SEO. Stats from Marketing Sherpa show that quality content is the best way to improve your search ranking. For a startup, good SEO is essential for brand awareness and growth. A good blog establishing yourself as an authoritative voice in your field will also help your reputation more generally.
Content Startup Marketing will help you on practically every other growth channel too. For example:
- Content can help you build a mailing list – e.g, an ebook which can only be downloaded once an email has entered.
- You’ll never struggle to find stuff to post on social media again once your blog is up and running.
- Content gives you something valuable to offer influencers.
- Awesome content is a great place to link to from paid ads.
The bottom line is content isn’t snake oil. It really can help your business grow.
What about the downsides of content startup marketing?
Sadly, nothing’s perfect. Content marketing takes time, energy and lots and lots of planning. You won’t see instant results – it’s a long-term strategy, not a fairy godmother. For a startup working week to week, this can be a tough pill to swallow.
But then again, if you don’t think your company’s going to be around long-term, why are you bothering?
It’s not good enough to just put out any content either. It has to be quality content that really delivers something of value to the reader. This means if writing’s not your strong suit, you’ll either have to figure out who on your team is capable, or hire someone new.
How to set up your own content strategy for startup marketing –
By this point, you probably just want to know how to get started. So let’s jump in.
1. What do you want your content to do?
Before you do anything else, know what you want your content marketing to achieve for your business. This could be more conversions, more sign-ups, social shares or improved SEO. Set goals are the only way to measure the success of your strategy further down the line.
2. Research your target market
This goes for any startup marketing. Before you start, you need to know who you want to use your product or service. You need to figure out what they struggle with and how your business solves that problem. It’s impossible to put together a solid content marketing strategy without this information.
Don’t make assumptions. Send out surveys to your ideal target market and make sure there is interest in your product. Use the feedback to develop in depth buyer personas. This will help you identify common pain points on their journey to do [whatever it is your startup will solve for them].
Channels come in here too. What channels are your target audience using? Where should you be promoting your content? There’s no point posting all your blogs on Twitter only to find out Pinterest is your audience’s network of choice.
That said, it can be difficult for startups to lock this down at first. Startups are by nature a bit more unpredictable than big businesses, just because you’ve got the flexibility to be more agile. If you do end up pivoting, and your target market changes, don’t worry too much. But do be prepared to change your content strategy accordingly.
3. Research your competitors
This isn’t just researching how your USP is different from theirs. You also need to find out what content they’re producing and – more to the point – what they’re not producing. Your content should be unique and address your customer’s problems from a new perspective.
4. Map out the buyer journey and plan content for each stage
How do you think your buyer will turn into a converted customer? You need to map out their journey to this point, and create content for every stage. This will obviously vary depending on the exact nature of your startup, but this infographic can be adapted to fit most businesses:
So for instance, your potential customers are probably going to come across you either through Google or social media. The first piece of content will be lighter content to drive traffic to your site in the first place – think infographics, videos, and shorter blog posts that answer a simple question or provide entertainment.
After that, you want to drive your audience towards more targeted content that addresses very specific problems. These problems should be things your startup can solve. The content at this stage should be more detailed and higher value: long-form blog posts or ebooks. This sort of content can also be a great way to build a mailing list. All you’ve got to do is ask for an email address before they download something like an ebook.
The last step is decision making content. It’s only here that you explicitly tell them why your business solves the problem and how to use it. The whole point is that you’re not shoving ads in their face – instead, you’ve guided them through a decision making process where your company happens to be the end point. And if all goes well, this will lead to conversion and a satisfied customer.
But it’s important to remember it doesn’t end there. Ideally, you want to drive repeat business. This is what we’ve termed “aftercare” in the above infographic. You tell them what to do next and what other services they can access through your startup.
To illustrate this, we’ve made an infographic for a fictional company called Extraterrestrial Escapes. They provide package holidays to travellers on a budget to various planets in the solar system. Their goal is to get more holidays booked by showing that trips to Mars can be done at a lower price. Here’s what their content marketing plan might look like for each stage of their buyer’s journey:
So we’ve got the light, slightly click-baity titles at the top of the funnel, followed by detailed guides on planning a trip and then finally how Extraterrestrial Escapes can help you book your dream trip. Then, at some point after the trip, the “aftercare” would be ideas for future holidays (in this case, Saturn – although how they built hotels on a gas planet isn’t quite clear…)
5. Research existing startup marketing
Tools like BuzzSumo are a great way to find out what’s already working. Find out what sort of articles are popular and engaging in your niche. You can judge this based on social shares, but more specifically on what sort of content important influencers are sharing.
However, you obviously don’t just want to copy what’s already being done. Instead, use existing content as a starting point for topics. You should aim to put a different spin on the topics or target them to a different niche. For instance, Extraterrestrial Escapes might have found out that articles about luxury trips to Mars have been trending. So when they write their article, they instead focus on how you can have a great time on Mars, but at a lower cost.
Another strategy is to make existing content better. Take a topic that’s already doing well and write a more detailed, focused article. Perhaps Extraterrestrial Escapes have seen “3 things you have to do when visiting Mars” and know they can easily blow it out of the water by creating a longer, more detailed list. This is called the Skyscraper method. Take your competitor’s garden sheds and build them up into the Empire State Building.
6. Map out the promotion process
As we’ve said, the quality of content is really important. But if you just toss it out into the void without planning how you’re going to get seen, you’ll have a problem. Those shares and that increased traffic you dreamed about? Nada.
Once you’ve mapped out what you’re going to create, you need to decide how you’re going to promote it. Media can be owned, earned, or paid. You’ll probably be wanting to use all these channels for your content at some point or another:
- Owned media: this is media you have full control over. So, your website, blog and social media channels. You’ll most likely be publishing your content on your website/blog and sharing it on social media channels as a standard part of your process.
- Earned media: this is media exposure you’ve got by producing quality content and building good SEO. Think shares, mentions, PR and reviews.
- Paid media: what it says on the tin – paid ads on social media, pay-per-click, retargeting etc. Good for improving your content’s reach, but often expensive.
As the diagram below shows, these don’t work independently of each other; they’re all linked. So you might publish your content on Facebook (owned), but promote it using Facebook ads (paid). Earned media isn’t totally passive either. You should be sending your content to influencers and engaging with leads on social networks to encourage shares.
As we said earlier, you need to be promoting your content in places that your target audience will see it. Pick the channels you know they use – e.g LinkedIn is probably going to be a lot more useful for a B2B startup than it is for a travel startup, who will probably have better luck on channels like Instagram.
The bottom line is you shouldn’t be playing this by ear. Before you put pen to paper, know the exact process you’ll be following to drive traffic to your carefully crafted content. If no one looks at it, you’ve just wasted a lot of time.
7. Create content
So after all this, you’re finally be ready to get round to actually making the content. With all this planning, that might just be the easy bit. Here are some quick tips for making your content the best it can be:
- Take your time over it – rushed content isn’t going to do your business justice. Give yourself time to edit and ask someone else to take a look too.
- Experiment with different types of content. It’s tempting to stick to blog posts, but infographics, video and podcasts are just some of the many other things you can try.
- Always think about SEO and keywords when you are producing written content.
- Make your headlines strong. They’re key in making people actually read your content. Only 20% of people who see a headline go on to actually read the article!
- Give your audience the answers they want – find out what they’re asking and address their needs.
- Be accurate and back up any data you share.
- Use images and video to break up text.
8. Execute your promotional strategy
You know what you said you’d do in step 6 of this guide? Do it.
9. Measure results
The first thing to point out is that results from content marketing won’t be instant. As we said earlier, it’s a long-term strategy. However, you should still be tracking how well your content is doing. Google Analytics is your friend here. Here are some metrics to keep an eye on:
- How much traffic are you getting?
- What’s the source of traffic? This one’s important as it can help you refine your promotional strategy.
- What’s the bounce rate? High bounce rates are bad for SEO.
- How long are people staying on a page? If it’s a video, how much of it are they actually watching?
- What’s the most popular content?
Have a document or spreadsheet that keeps track of this data, as this will help you with the next stage of content marketing: iterating and improving your work.
10. Iterate and improve
What you do in this step depends on what your analysis is showing. Here are some examples of improvements you might make in different scenarios:
All your traffic is coming from one source
This could mean a few different things. It might just be that that’s the channel your target audience is using and you’d be best focusing your efforts on that channel. On the other hand, it might mean that you’re not optimising your content for different channels. What works on Facebook doesn’t necessarily work on Instagram so you might want to push different content to these.
Your bounce rate is high
High bounce rates can be improved by building up your link structure – that is, making sure your content links to other relevant content on your site. Further down the funnel, you also need to emphasise that your product/service is the solution to their problem. If your bounce rate is high far down the funnel, you need to really make sure you’re giving your customers a reason to convert.
People aren’t staying on the page for very long
Your content probably isn’t engaging enough. Review your writing process.
Some of your content is getting a lot more traffic
Again, you need to look into the reasons why this is. Your content higher up the funnel is naturally going to get more traffic, just because it’s lighter content and will be accessible to more people. Then again, it might be a matter of rethinking your writing and/or promotional process if this isn’t the case.
We hope this guide has told you all you need to know about beginning content startup marketing. If you’ve got a question about this guide, feel free to get in touch.
One last tip for the road: if the thought of producing all this stuff yourself is daunting, freelancers can be a great solution and help you produce awesome creative content, without the expense of a full-time staff member. You can find out all about working with freelancers by downloading our free ebook.
And, if you’re looking to hire freelance creatives, get started by posting a brief on Twine today.